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A guide to a vegetarian diet for children

Nutrition in children must not only meet the needs for energy and functioning of the organism. It should also provide nutrients and micronutrients for growth and development, says prim. Dr. Alemka Jaklin Kekez.

Kids - vegetarian diet

  • A vegan diet: only plant foods; no foods of animal origin (meat, milk, eggs, fish)
  • Lacto vegetarian food: no meat, but include milk, eggs, fish
  • Semi-vegetarian diet: includes milk, eggs, fish, and poultry meat,  red meat is excluded
  • Macrobiotic diet: avoid the use of heavily processed foods, refined sugar, and most foods from animal origin

The main deficits that may result from the vegetarian diet are:

Vegetarian diet

  • Lack of caloric intake (meals rich in fruits, vegetables, grains are often voluminous but low in calorie density)
  • Insufficient intake of certain proteins (animal products are the main source of essential amino acids, from plants only legumes contain them)
  • Essential fatty acids-omega-3 (sources: eggs, seafood, nuts, olive and fish oils). Essential fatty acids are important for the maturation of the brain and are important for vision
  • Vitamin B12 (the main source comes from milk, meat, fish, eggs)
  • Vitamin D (source: milk, dairy products, fish, eggs)
  • Calcium (source: milk, dairy products, fish, green leafy vegetables). A lot of fiber in the diet reduces the absorption of calcium
  • Iron (source: breast milk, formula milk, meat, fish, legumes, green leafy vegetables)
  • Zinc (source: milk, fish, legumes, nuts)

The main problems that may occur with vegetarian diet:

  • Weaker growth and low weight progress
  • Reduction of subcutaneous fat and muscle mass
  • Less fulfilling of the cognitive potential
  • Weakened immune system
  • Anemia and poor bone mineralisation


A more restrictive vegetarian diet makes the possibility of deficit bigger.

The greatest risk for nutritional deficiency carries a vegan diet, mainly due to the complete elimination of food from animal origin. Also highly disadvantageous is the macrobiotic diet, because of its very poor caloric intake.

Infants and young children (in the critical period of growth):

  • Should not be on vegan or macrobiotic diet because it is too restrictive
  • Breastfeeding is the best and a sufficient source of energy for all macro- and micronutrients in the firchildren - vegetarian dietst 6 months of life
  • If the child is not consuming breast milk, it is advisable to feed him with formula milk
  • Supplemental feeding is recommended to start between 4 and 6 months
  • With vegetarian diet, milk intake should be about 500 ml, even after the first 6 months
  • After 6 months, you should prepare porridge. You can occasionally use whole cow`s milk, but it is not good to be the basic milk in the children’s diet (risk of anemia)
  • Soy milk is not advisable in the first 6 months
  • Other vegetable milk (rice, almond, oatmeal ..), not for infants and young children, primarily because they are hypocaloric and are lacking in essential amino acids. Some of them contain heavy metals
  • It is advisable to combine different types of grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes

Vegetarian diet for little children and adolescents:

  • A well-planned vegetarian menu (with milk, eggs, and fish) will not cause nutritional deficits
  • Very strict diet (no milk, dairy products, eggs, fish) can cause weaker progress and growth
  • It is especially relevant to pay attention to the intake of vitamins and minerals: calcium (calcium-enriched milk, green leafy vegetables, supplements), iron (whole wheat cereals enriched with iron and vitamin C), B12 (fish, seafood, eggs)


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